According to a Wednesday press release from Westinghouse Anniston, the contractor responsible for shutting down the facility, the employee drawdown today will affect 50 workers at the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility. The facility reached another closure milestone and so no longer needs the labor.
Workers there destroyed the last of Anniston’s chemical weapons stockpile in September 2011 and has been undergoing closure efforts ever since.
The release states that the layoffs are expected to be a permanent reduction in the facility’s workforce. Not including the latest round of layoffs, Westinghouse has downsized its workforce by approximately 100 positions over the last year through attrition, transfers of employees to other sites and voluntary departures. After the layoffs, there will still be 650 people working at the incinerator for Westinghouse and its subcontractors along with 20 government employees.
Among the workers who no longer have jobs at the facility: four paramedics, three munitions handlers, three mechanical technicians and an environmental engineer.
Guy Campbell, system contractor project manager for Westinghouse, said the closure program reached the major milestone of disassembling equipment in areas were chemical weapons were destroyed.
“We have a schedule with intermittent milestones and this is the next milestone we’re getting ready to achieve,” Campbell said.
Currently, Westinghouse projects the facility will be completely closed in the second quarter of 2015, which is earlier than original projections, Campbell said.
“We’re exceeding expectations,” he said. “We’re making very, very good progress in regards to our schedule.”
Available to help the workers find new jobs is the Operation 1st Rate program, administered by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce. The program is using a $740,000 federal grant in part to help workers at the incinerator find new employment as the work there ended. The program also assists workers laid off at the Anniston Army Depot.
Sherri Sumners, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce Foundation and overseer of Operation 1st Rate, said the program was ready to aid workers included in the latest round of layoffs if needed.
“Oh absolutely, this was one of the reasons we opened our new office at Quintard Mall — to make the program more accessible to people being laid off,” Sumners said.
Sumners added that three new people were recently hired to assist in the program and connect unemployed workers with employers in the area.
“We’re doing everything we can to help people,” Sumners said.
U.S. Army spokesman Mike Abrams said there was still much work to be done at the incinerator, including further equipment teardowns and safety checks to ensure no chemical agent remains at the site.
“We cannot just open the doors and tear the place down,” Abrams said. “We have to be very particular in the work … to protect the workforce and the environment.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.